'A longer breather'

When Chris Lofton went down, JaJuan Smith's intensity level went up. That proved to be one of the keys to victory Saturday night as Tennessee ended a three-game losing streak by holding off South Carolina 64-61.

Smith was understandably concerned when Lofton, the Vols' leading scorer and pre-season All-American, had to be carried off the court due to an ankle injury with 18:11 left and UT leading 37-27.

In spite of the setback, Tennessee's players remained surprisingly composed as Lofton was being helped from the playing surface.

As Smith recalled: "We all just got together and said: ‘We've got to do this the way we do in practice while he's catching his breath. It's just a longer breather right now.'"

Smith did his part. He scored on a spinning five-footer to cap a 9-4 spurt that widened the gap to 46-31. When Carolina made a 9-0 run to pull within 46-40, Smith answered with a couple of free throws.

The Gamecocks made another rally and closed to 55-52 with 2:50 to play. Smith came to the rescue, however, driving for a basket and then adding a pair of free throws as the lead swelled to 59-52 with 53.8 seconds left.

After losing their three previous games by a combined six points, the Vols had to be feeling some pressure in those taut final minutes. Clearly, winning a close game after losing three in a row was significant.

"It was real big," said Smith, who finished with a game-high 21 points, plus 7 rebounds. "We had a nasty taste in our mouth, and we'd been wanting to play ever since we left Auburn. To get this win is real helpful for us, going on into SEC play."

Having Smith back on track going forward in SEC play is helpful, too. He made just 2 of 11 shots in Game 16 at Vanderbilt and 2 of 9 in Game 17 at Ohio State. He bounced back to hit 7 of 13 at Auburn in Game 18, however, then made 7 of 14 against Carolina.

"That's just something I've been trying to work on … getting out of that slump I was in," he said. "I just came out and kept the same mentality, kept going to the hole and kept shooting."

Smith's big performance against Carolina was marred somewhat by a bit of hot-dogging he tried in the final seconds. Finding himself all alone after catching a long inbounds pass, he tried a flamboyant dunk that failed.

"I was just trying to do something to get the crowd on their feet at the end," he sheepishly explained. "It didn't go down the way I wanted it to."


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